#AdlerGalaxyRide Road Journal, Day Four

This is the first in a series of travel journals for the #AdlerGalaxyRide, a biking science roadshow over the 300+ miles between Chicago and St Louis. You can follow our ride by checking the website, following @AdlerPlanet on Twitter and Instagram, or searching for the #AdlerGalaxyRide hashtag.

Kids stretching the fabric of spacetime, up to their elbows in flour, and squealing in delight over a leaf-blower: today’s event at the Normal Public Library was all hands on deck for the Galaxy Riders! Even before we had finished set-up, visitors had started to trickle in– and it wasn’t long before the front lawn of the library was packed with people of all ages.

Welcome to Normal IL!

Welcome to Normal IL!

We’ve focused on hands-on demonstrations for Galaxy Ride, rather than just having talks or pictures. Since we are anchoring the ride around distances in the universe, we have a number of interactive demos featuring scale models (e.g. the Earth and the moon as basketball and tennis ball, with a length of rope for people to vote on how far apart they should be at that scale). We also use the event as a way of bringing people into discovering other topics in astronomy: for example, we’ve brought along a few Hoberman spheres, which I’ve been using to talk about stellar evolution. One of the spheres is about 4 feet in diameter, and I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t want to get in and stand inside. Today, I discovered you can actually teach really little children about hydrostatic equilibrium (the balance in stars between the self-gravity of their mass pulling inward, and the outward pressure of nuclear fusion): if you get a few in the sphere, you can shrink the sphere on them and get them to do the hydrogen fusion dance (so, basically wiggling) to make enough energy to keep the star expanded! We also had a cratering activity with a tray of flour and projectiles of different weights and sizes, and the always-popular Bernouilli’s principle demos using our trusty Science Leafblower.


Of course, one of the highlights of our programs is just being able to show people incredible things in the sky; today, early guests got a glimpse of the current spots freckling our sun’s face, while later we observed the craters of the moon. The Illinois State University Planetarium put on a free show about celestial motion and the upcoming lunar eclipse (this Sunday, 9/27!) after our event, so hopefully the citizens of Normal will be out to appreciate the show this coming weekend! We also met Leo Edwardsson, who told us that he was hoping to revive the Interplanetary Bicycle Ride using the Lakeview Museum’s Community Solar System in Peoria— so stay tuned if you are nearby.

Tuesday night we’ll be in Lincoln, and finally outside of our solar system, where we’ll be writing to you from the nearest stars. See you in space!

Lucianne Walkowicz